Stetina ready to step up for second Giro d’Italia

American to skip Ardennes classics in preparation for top goal at the Giro d'Italia

Peter Stetina (Garmin-Barracuda) is hoping 2012 will see him continue on the slow-but-steady trajectory that has confirmed his talent as a rider on the way up.

Last year, the young American rode to an impressive 22nd at the Giro d’Italia in his grand tour debut in what was universally hailed one of the hardest editions ever of the Italian race.

Now in his third season with Garmin’s top pro team, Stetina is a natural climber who dreams someday of challenging for the GC in the grand tours.

At 24, Stetina is one of the last riders still within the Slipstream Sports organization that began in the mid-2000s. Along with current Garmin neo-pro Alex Howes, Stetina was among team boss Jonathan Vaughters’ first riders as a junior. Stetina became a back-to-back national time trial champion as a U23 rider before making the leap to the pro ranks in 2010.

Along with the likes of teammate Andrew Talansky and BMC Racing’s Tejay van Garderen, Stetina is among a new generation of young American riders starting to make their presence felt in the international peloton.

Racing this week at the Vuelta al País Vasco, Stetina is honing his form ahead of another assault of the Giro d’Italia later this season. VeloNews caught up with Stetina earlier this season to gauge his goals for 2012 and beyond:

VeloNews: Last year was a big season for you; your first grand tour (22nd in Giro), was it a confirmation of sorts for you?
Peter Stetina: 2011 was good for me. I was able to prove to others what I thought I was capable of. Especially at the Giro, to show maybe I am built for these grand tours more so than the weeklong stage races. Racing on that high through Colorado, and having the hometown fans, it was a good year. I was able to recover from the Giro in time for Lombardia, so I was able to go out on a high note. Dan almost won, and I was able to help him all day, help him up the last climb and still be there for a top-15. I was happy and Dan was so close. It was a lot of fun.

VN: At last year’s Giro, you were working for the team, but also were able to produce a solid GC result, Everyone said it was the hardest Giro ever; how did you feel in Milano?
PS: I was tired as hell afterwards. Everyone was tired after that Giro. Contador was tired, Scarponi ended his season early, and Nibali couldn’t come back for the Vuelta. I don’t think many guys got back to their former selves after that Giro. The guys who did were the power riders who were riding in the gruppetto, which is not racing every day. It was hard for even them, and there was a short cut-off time. It was brutal. It was a good experience. I enjoyed it.

VN: So you’re heading back to the Giro again this year with more ambitions?
PS: I am going back to the Giro. That’s the plan, going back with Ryder and [Christian Vande Velde]. And I am going to be Ryder’s right-hand man in the Dolomites. If the form is there, I can pursue my own high placing while helping him. If he’s climbing well, and I am climbing well enough to help him, then naturally I will have a high place.

VN: What is the road map heading toward the Giro?
PS: I will race everything in Italy. I think the only results I’ve ever had have been in Italy, so I think they’re thinking, ‘Oh, let’s leave Pete in Italy.’ I like it, because the hotels are nice and the pasta is delicious. The coffee is great. Basque Country, Romandie, Giro – all the climbing races. No spring classics, I think I will be doing some sort of recon in Italy. That’s what I did last year, and it worked out well for me.

VN: This is your third year with the top Garmin team, what are your ambitions?
PS: Keep chipping away at each year and get a bit better. My goals are high this year. I’d like to run a top-10 in the Giro. I know that’s kind of high, but if you don’t set your goals high, you can never reach them. If you don’t make it, you don’t make it, but if you set them too low, then you’re not pushing yourself enough. Maybe you run top-15, top-10, then the next year, you go for top-5, then you go for the podium. Just keeping chipping away.

VN: Has it taken you a few years to find your racing legs at the top level?
PS: That’s how I’ve always been. Some guys, like Edvald Boasson Hagen, Tejay (van Garderen), they came to the pros and immediately they started winning, they started being at the front. I was never like that. Even as an espoirs, it took me two years, then I got better. And in the pros, it took me a year-and-a-half to find my legs. Slow and steady. I am the tortoise in the tortoise and hare scenario.

VN: Does the team give you that space to grow and develop at your pace?
VN: Definitely. Look at our history together. I am the last surviving member from 5280-Subaru. Alex (Howes) maybe came in as a junior and all the way up. JV (Vaughters), he’s given me time to grow. I almost didn’t make the cut in 2007; but he made the development team, so I was able to go from the Pro-Conti team, where I got my head bashed in all year and I was 19. Then I raced there and made my way back up. They’ve been really supportive and I have done my thing. I have my own motivation and they just give me the tools to thrive.

VN: What kinds of things are you working on now to improve?
PS: This year, they’ve been amazing. Somehow, I kind of lost my time trial since being an Under-23. I know it’s way faster in the pros, but even my average speed and average power have been lower since I was U23. We lost the position somehow. This year, the team has worked hours and hours with me, with bike fitting, positioning, mechanics. JV has been giving me tips on time trialing. They’re really investing in me for the time trial, which is really good to see. The team loves time trial.

VN: What do you make of this year’s Giro route? Is it perhaps not as brutal as last year’s?
PS: The Giro is always hard. With the same guys, it’s just as hard. Maybe there are not as many mountaintop finishes. The same guys will be at the fore, it just won’t be five minutes between guys. It will be three minutes or 30 seconds. It’s a good route. I like it.

VN: What was the highlight of your Giro last year?
PS: I remember the Zoncolan (15th on the stage –ed.), that’s when I got let off-leash and was allowed just to go for it. And I did well. I had been helping Christophe (Le Mevel) in the mountains and he had been sitting top-10 for a while. He had a few bad days. He was wondering if he had peaked a little early and he was getting tired.

We hit the Zoncolan, it’s so steep, you cannot help him and he cannot draft me anyway. It’s so steep, there’s only one speed. There’s no drafting. It’s like a mountain bike race; you just sit at your speed for 45 minutes. I was able to do my thing and it turned out to be good. I was on an adrenalin-high, so I probably went faster than I normally do.

VN: When you’re looking at this year, are the Olympics on your radar screen?
PS: I would love to do the Olympics. As an American, that would be bigger than the Tour for some guys. I don’t know how the course suits me. Our best chance for a medal is Tyler (Farrar), so they will want to bring a team built around Tyler. I am more than willing to go. My chances are better toward Rio (in 2016). I would love to go, if not, I will watch it on TV. I love the Olympics.